Groupwork in PGH

Diversity Makes Us Strong

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“Is there a line for the bathroom??”

I recently overheard this statement, expressed in a tone of disbelief, in the women’s restroom at our studio. Laughing at the employee’s shock at encountering a phenomenon more commonly experienced in the wider world, I also felt a sense of satisfaction, because it reflected one aspect of a shifting demographic for us as a growing studio -- we have more women working at Schell Games than ever before. Historically, the studio has always championed diverse teams, and has in fact been consistently above industry average for employing individuals that represent minority groups of people at all levels of the studio. “Diversity makes us strong” is a long-held principle of the studio, and we truly believe it! However, we’ve recently been more focused on identifying and expanding what diversity actually means to us, and we’ve grown more diverse in several areas.

In addition to our own games, our studio develops various projects for a wide spectrum of clientele, on different (and often brand-new) technology platforms. Being full-service allows us to take a project at all stages of development, from half-formed concept to an established property, and execute at a high level without outsourcing. This means we need both people who are flexible and looking to develop new skills, and individuals who are highly specialized in a subdiscipline. We also do a lot of weird (read: unusual and challenging) things! In order to tackle this often-uncharted territory, we need talented people from a wide variety of backgrounds, disciplines, perspectives.

Schell games collaborating Population discrepancy in games industry

While Schell Games beats the industry average, the industry needs to be more representative

Technical ability, while extremely important and necessary to be a valued contributor on a team, is by itself insufficient to make a good hire or successful studio member. Placing additional emphasis on a variety of soft skills (constructive communication, propensity for growth, collaboration and teamwork, etc.) and standardizing assessment of these skills allows us to attract a broader range of candidates from a variety of backgrounds. These skills are a big part of our current studio 360 feedback process once candidates become employees, so we try to evaluate them as much as possible during the various stages of the current interview process. This pre- and post-offer alignment helps reduce a cultural mismatch and highlights what we truly value.

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In order to be genuinely diverse and inclusive, we must view holistically categories of ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation, along with other dimensions of diversity. Not everyone has funds to attend pedigreed four-year institutions or even access to scholarships for those schools, which means looking beyond those types of requirements in job descriptions and on resumes. It also means proactively subverting systemic issues such as unconscious bias in hiring, re-evaluating disproportionately high barriers to entry for women and minorities in the tech industry, and combatting imposter syndrome and the confidence gap for disenfranchised and underrepresented individuals. Instead of passively waiting for our talent pool to change, we actively seek out candidates from different ethnicities, races, and genders alongside a wide range of experiential backgrounds.

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Additionally, no two human brains are alike. We know echo chambers happen in homogenous workforces, whereas people who think differently challenge team member’s assumptions and reveal each other’s blind spots. This requires recognizing and supporting a wide variety of thought patterns, communication styles and strengths in the workplace. It’s important to make marginalized groups feel represented and encourage respectful discourse. For us, it’s important not only that we discuss difficult and emotionally-charged topics, but also how we talk about these things, and that everyone is a part of the discussion. These important topics often find their way into our transformational games in some form, so welcoming all viewpoints is essential for representation.

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Possessing and displaying empathy allows one to get in the headspace of someone with vastly different set of skills, perspectives, background, and temperament. Once you try to begin to understand where your teammate is coming from, constructive conflict that arises from the differences between you can actually become a healthy catalyst for a stronger work product.

When evaluating candidates who will potentially join our studio, empathy becomes a valuable trait to attempt to assess during the interview process.

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Once you’ve hired and built a high-performing, diverse team, it’s really important to retain them. We believe teams get better over time, especially as they learn to maximize the different strengths each team member brings to the table. Focusing on retention means everything from supporting the growth of studio members’ professional development and promoting members underrepresented groups to formal avenues of leadership -- to making sure our pay and bonus structure isn’t discriminatory and providing flexible working arrangements with generous paid leave benefits. Everyone at the studio is responsible in some way for achieving this goal.

To this end, we are excited to launch a new internal training series on unconscious bias in a proactive effort to promote social and self-awareness, empathy, and inclusion. To be human is to have biases, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our brains process information in a variety of ways, and when pressed for time, we tend to fall back on shortcuts to arrive at conclusions. The question is not “Do we have biases?” but “Which biases are ours?” However, it’s important for us to learn how to recognize these unconscious biases and account for them when making any decision, whether it’s hiring, promoting, compensating, or developing amazing products in a team environment. Intentionally exposing our workforce to the perspectives of those who are most adversely impacted by unchecked, unconscious bias is a way we plan to demonstrate and cultivate the skill of embodying empathy.

One thing I’ve discovered in looking for training resources is that your sources and methods of delivery have to be diverse too -- there’s no one-size-fits-all approach! Our training series will leverage short videos, articles, and baseline assessments from a wide range of publicly available material on unconscious bias to facilitate discussion amongst all our studio members. Each session will explore a different facet of how unconscious bias manifests itself, and how every person at any level in the studio can have a positive impact by identifying and mitigating it. We hope to inspire recurring conversations, because as Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman says,

“The odds of limiting the constraints of biases in a group setting rise when discussion of them is widespread.”

I am proud to work at a place where these concepts aren’t abstract, and our practices and policies transcend compliance. We don’t emphasize these things because it’s required by law, we value them because they are central to how we operate successfully as a studio. We want to promote a culture of mutual respect, and welcome amazing new team members that add to our culture, because we recognize diversity, in all its forms, truly makes us strong.